Art: Slipper by Elizabeth Fuller
Song: Lead the Way by Akayna Calkins
Story by Anonymous
Monday morning. Slow start. Peter rushes to hold the elevator door from closing the moment he sees me jet through the revolving door, but is too late. It’s okay, I’ll catch the next one. My hands nervously move from rolling the lint in my pockets to clumps to placing both hands on my briefcase as I stare at the light above moving from 14 to 13, and so on. Warm air brushes the back of my neck, blowing northward through the tobacco ridden teeth of an asshole’s smile.
“I didn’t notice it was raining.”
Fuck you, Michael. He obviously is making a cheeky remark on the beads of sweat rolling down past my ear.
“Late start” I confess. Honesty is key.No need to say more.
The light finally hits 1 as the doors open to reveal an embarrassed Peter.
“I’m sorry, Sir! I thought I..”
“It’s fine, Peter. Wasn’t your fault.”
The asshole and I both step into the steel lift. I shift the cuff of my jacket as the doors close to see the minute hand shift to exactly 14 minutes past 9. Late again. Michael’s always late, but that’s just a perk that comes with being the boss’s nephew. Maybe I could marry his daughter? Does he even have a daughter? I entertain this thought for a while, sifting through drunken memories of each christmas party. Doors open.
“No one wants to take it? Jim? Not even you? Ain’t you from upstate?”
Everyone’s circled around the boss. Fuck, that’s right. He said there was something big he needed us on this week. I try to sneak to the back of the crowd, just as the elevator shuts and signals the room with it’s departing “beep” that it is going back down. Everyone turns to see me and Michael standing there with pale faces.
“Ah, Ken, thanks for volunteering.” He says with a smirk. “Meet me in my office and I’ll give you the details.”
The minnows scatter back to their desks as I B-line for the Boss’s office. Tucker is licking the fingers of one hand as he brushes crumbs from his tie with the other. Must have been donut-day.
The moment I step through the doorway the boss tells me to shut the door and sit down as he mindlessly shuffles papers and folders on his desk.
“Actually, don’t sit down. I need you to hit the road immediately. Does the name Gladys Harper ring any bells?”
“No bells for me.”
“Well it should, she’s the widow of the late Henry Harper, AKA the mother of the owner Stanley Harper, AKA responsible for your paycheck. This publication rides on a lot more than it’s reviews. More importantly, she’s turning 100 this Wednesday. The thing is, no one’s heard from her or seen her for the past month. I need you to drive to her country home up past Utica in the Adirondack Mountains.”
“Just to check on her?”
“And write a piece.”
“So I’m a reporter and a babysitter?”
“If you don’t like it, you can be neither.”
“No, no, it’s fine. Just wanted to clarify.”
“Uh-huh, sure. Jenny’s got the address.. I suggest that you hit the road immediately.”
“And, Ken? I want the piece to be about a ‘living’ centennial. Got it?”
Before he even finished his sentence, I was out the door reaching for the piece of paper with an address held in Jenny’s hand as she popped her gum.
I’ve always been a Manhattan-man. Never travelled further than Newark for my brother’s wedding. Upstate has always seemed like the blend of a shit-show and a fairy tale land. A place for hicks and retirees that have never had the need for a drink and lights at 2 in the morning.
8 hours pass between wrong turns, fill-ups, and shitty music on the radio that only gets better with static the deeper I drive through the mountains. The sun is long gone as the dim lights of my Chevy Corvair guides me through the tunnel of trees that twists and curves with each neverending turn of the road. Whoever designed these roads obviously never lived in the city and never gave anything for common sense. What if someone up here ever had their home go up in flames? They’d be fucked. The fire department would be following a trail of smoke for a week only to get from the one mile to the next swearing to the public that the roads had shifted on them, as they always do, which is why they’d become proficient in the “debris-clean-up” division, seeing as that’s the only service they can really provide in the middle of fucking nowhere. As I chuckle at the thought of firemen sweeping with tiny brooms for ash, the road turns irregular from the past 3 curves from before and I find myself airborne. This is exactly what my mother had warned me about the moment I told her I was finally able to buy my first car.
“Why in the world do you need a car, Kenny?” She said. “You live in the city.” She said. “You really think that’s what’s going to impress a girl?” She said. “Everyone who has one is bound to die in one.” She said.
Branches rattle the passenger window as my lights reveal a leafy patch ahead on the hillside. The sound of crunched metal and glass is second to the pounding of my forehead against the steering wheel followed by an oozing ringing in my ears as I’m tossed around the interior while my chevy cartwheels down the hillside. Finally, I open my eyes to stillness as I stare up at a star-lit sky with no treetop in sight. I look to my right to see my car 30 feet away with the driver door hanging open and moving ever so slightly to the pulse of the wind. I’m laying in a meadow, and the grass is so soft and comforting on my back.
I take a second to feel everything else in my body, only to be reminded shortly after that that was a foolish endeavor. Better to just lay here.
I open my eyes again and am enamored by the twinkling stars above that glitter through my tears. All I have wanted is to be in a land of lights. The wind is warm and brings the freshest scent of sugary leaves that ease the tears that have pooled by the crevice of my nose to roll down my cheek. There is a song of crickets that chirp in harmony to the trinkle of a nearby stream. Something here is speaking to me in a voice that is almost familiar. Something here has been waiting for me all along. I have lived my life yearning for such a voice.There is coolness, and there is a warmth. And for once, it is not too late.